On the details of the orders

1. Quoniam autem de generibus columnarum origines et inventiones supra sunt scriptae, non alienum mihi videtur isdem rationibus de ornamentis eorum, quemadmodum sunt prognata et quibus principiis et originibus inventa, dicere. In aedificiis omnibus insuper conlocatur materiatio variis vocabulis nominata. Ea autem uti in nominationibus, ita in res varias habet utilitates. Trabes enim supra columnas et parastaticas et antas ponuntur; in contignationibus tigna et axes; sub tectis, si maiora spatia sunt, et transtra et capreoli, si commoda, columen, et cantherii prominentes ad extremam suggrundationem; supra cantherios templa; deinde insuper sub tegulas asseres ita prominentes, uti parietes protecturis eorum tegantur.


1. Now since the origins and discovery of the orders of columns have been described above, it does not seem foreign to my purpose if I speak in the same way about their ornaments: how they came about, and from what principles and origins they were invented. In all buildings timbering, called by various names, is used in the upper parts; as in name, so in practice, it has uses for various things. Beams are placed on columns, pilasters and responds. In floors there are joists and planks. Under roofs, if the spans are considerable, both cross pieces and stays; if of moderate size, a ridge piece with rafters projecting to the edge of the eaves. Above the principal rafters, purlins; then above, under the tiles, rafters which overhang so that the walls are covered by the eaves.

2. Ita unaquaeque res et locum et genus et ordinem proprium tuetur. E quibus rebus et a materiatura fabrili in lapideis et marmoreis aedium sacrarum aedificationibus artifices dispositiones eorum scalpturis sunt imitati et eas inventiones persequendas putaverunt. Ideo, quod antiqui fabri quodam in loco aedificantes, cum ita ab interioribus parietibus ad extremas partes tigna prominentia habuissent conlocata, inter tigna struxerunt supraque coronas et fastigia venustiore specie fabrilibus operibus ornaverunt, tum proiecturas tignorum, quantum eminebant, ad lineam et perpendiculum parietum praesecuerunt, quae species cum invenusta is visa esset, tabellas ita formatas, uti nunc fiunt triglyphi, contra tignorum praecisiones in fronte fixerunt et eas cera caerulea depinxerunt, ut praecisiones tignorum tectae non offenderent visum ita divisiones tignorum tectae triglyporum dispositionem et inter tigna metoparum habere in doricis operibus coeperunt.


2. So each scantling preserves its proper place and style and arrangement. In view of these things and of carpenter's work generally, craftsmen imitated such arrangements in sculpture when they built temples of stone and marble. For they thought these models worth following up. Thus workmen of old, building in various places, when they had put beams reaching from the inner walls to the outside parts, built in the spaces between the beams; above through their craftsmanship, they ornamented the cornices and gables with a more graceful effect. Then they cut off the projections of the beams, as far as they came forward, to the line and perpendicular of the walls. But since this appearance was ungraceful, they fixed tablets shaped as triglyphs now are, against the cut-off beams, and painted them with bleu wax, in order that the cut-off beams might be concealed so as not to offend the eyes. Thus in Doric structures, the divisions of the beams being hidden began to have the arrangement of the triglyphs, and, between the beams, of metopes.

3. Postea alii in aliis operibus ad perpendiculum triglyphorum cantherios prominentes proiecerunt eorumque proiecturas simaverunt. Ex eo, uti tignorum dispositionibus triglyphi, ita e cantheriorum proiecturis mutulorum sub coronulis ratio est inventa. Ita fere in operibus lapideis et marmoreis mutuli inclinatis scalpturis deformantur, quod imitatio est cantheriorum; etenim necessario propter stillicidia proclinati conlocantur. Ergo et triglyphorum et mutulorum in doricis operibus ratio ex ea imitatione inventa est.


3. Subsequently other architects in other works carried forward over the triglyphs the projecting rafters, and trimmed the projections. Hence just as triglyphs came by the treatment of the beams, so from the projections of the rafters the detail of the mutules under the cornices was invented. Thus in generally in buildings of stone and marble the mutules are modelled with sloping carving; and this imitates the rafters. For they are necessarily put sloping because of the rainfall. Therefore in the Doric style the detail both of the triglyphs and of the mutules arose from this imitation of timber work.

4. Non enim, quemadmodum nonnulli errantes dixerunt fenestrarum imagines esse triglyphos, ita potest esse, quod in angulis contraque tetrantes columnarum triglyphi constituuntur, quibus in locis omnino non patitur res fenestras fieri. Dissolvuntur enim angulorum in aedificiis iuncturae, si in is fenestrarum fuerint lumina relicta. Etiamque ubi nunc triglyphi constituuntur, si ibi luminum spatia fuisse iudicabuntur, isdem rationibus denticuli in ionicis fenestrarum occupavisse loca videbuntur. Utraque enim, et inter denticulos et inter triglyphos quae sunt intervalla, metopae nominantur. Opas enim Graeci tignorum cubicula et asserum appelant, uti nostri ea cava columbaria. Ita quod inter duas opas est intertignium, id metope est apud eos nominata.


4. For it cannot be that triglyphs are representations of windows (as some have mistakenly said). For triglyphs are placed in the angles of the front, and over the centre of columns; where generally it is impossible for windows to be made. For the bond at the angles of buildings is destroyed, if window lights are left there. And also if window lights are considered to have been where now triglyphs are placed, in the same way dentils in Ionic buildings will seem to have taken teh place of windows. For the interevals, which are both between dentils and between triglyphs, are called metopae. For the Greeks give the name of opae to the beds of beams and rafters; as our people call them hollow mortices. So the space between the two opae is called metopa among the Greeks.

5. Ita uti autem in doricis triglyphorum et mutulorum est inventa ratio, item in ionicis denticulorum constitutio propriam in operibus habet rationem, et quemadmodum mutuli cantheriorum proiecturae ferunt imaginem, sic in ionicis denticuli ex proiecturis asserum habent imitationem. Itaque in graecis operibus nemo sub mutulo denticulos constituit; non enim possunt subtus cantherios asseres esse. Quod ergo supra cantherios et templa in veritatem debet esse conlocatum, id in imaginibus si infra constitutum fuerit, mendosam habebit operis rationam. Etiam quod antiqui non probaverunt, neque instituerunt in fastigia (mutulos aut) denticulos fieri sed puras coronas, ideo quod nec cantherii nec asseres contra fastigiorum frontes distribuuntur nec possunt prominere, sed ad stillicidia proclinati conlocantur. Ita quod non potest in veritate fieri, id non putaverunt in imaginibus factum posse certam rationem habere.


5. In the doric order, the detail of the triglyphs and mutules was invented with a purpose. Similarly in Ionic buildings, the placing of the dentils, has its appropriate intention. And just as in the Doric order the mutules have been te representation of the projecting principal rafters, so, in the case of the Ionic dentils, they also imitate the projection of the ordinary rafters. Therefore in Greek works no one puts dentils under a mutule. For ordinary rafters cannot be put beneath principals. For if what ought to be placed above principals and purlins in reality is placed below them in the imitation, the treatment of the work will be faulty. Further, as in the pediments there should be either mutules or dentils, but plain cornices, this was because neiter pricipals nor rafters are fixed to project on the front of the gables, but are placed sloping down to the eaves. Thus what cannot happen in reality cannnot (they thought) be correctly treated in the imitation.

6. Omnia enim certa proprietate et a veris naturae deducta moribus transduxerunt in operum perfectiones, et ea probaverunt, quorum explicationes in disputationibus rationem possunt habere veritatis. Itaque ex eis originibus symmetrias et proportiones uniuscuiusque generis constitutas reliquerunt. Quorum ingressus persecutus de ionicis et corinthiis institutionibus supra dixi; nunc vero doricam rationem summamque eius speciem breviter exponam.


6. For, by an exact fitness deduced from the real laws of nature, they adapted everything to the perfection of their work, and approved what they could show by argument, to follow the method of reality. And so they handed down the symmetry and proportions of each order as determined from these beginnings. Following their footsteps I have spoken above of the Ionic and Corinthian orders, but now I shall briefly set forth the Doric manner and its general form.


In this chapter Vitruvius gives an acurate analysis of the origin of many architectural detail in the Doric and Ionic orders. In fact these details become only understandable when they are related to a wooden origin. This wooden origin is also confirmed by research on the earliest Greek temples.

The entablature of these early temples having almost entirely disappeared, we are forced to trust to a few fragments of their terracotta trimmings (especially those of Thermos) and to the archaic reproductions in stone of what were originally wooden features. If we confront the archaeological findings to the text of Vitruvius we may unhesitatingly affirm that the triglyphs in the frieze reproduce the ends of beams or rather the decorative grooved facing of the ends of such beams, secured in position by pins or pegs passing through the projecting taenia or fascia surmounting the architrave and through the regula or short strip under the taenia, below each triglyph; the pins became the guttae, still detached from the architrave in the earlier stone temples, and even sloping as if driven in diagonally from below. The mutules or projecting blocks on the soffit of the cornice are as clearly the ends of the rafters of the roof, likewise with pegs or guttae, and all the other details are easily interpreted as translation of wood or terracotta members into stone, the metopes being the terracotta facing of the brick walls between the triglyph beam ends.

Renaissance treatises don't mention this description of the origin of triglyphs, metopes and mutules. It 's true, they have elaborate descriptions of architrave, frieze, triglyps, metopes etc. but they only give the measures and proportions of these parts in accordance to the diameter of the column or the general outline of the building. Only Alberti in his ninth chapter of book 7 makes a brief allusion to the technique described so accurately by Vitruvius: The beam is set on top of the capitals, once they have been placed in position, and on top of the beam are set the cross-beams, boards, and other parts that make up the roof. ........ The Dorians ...... gave their beam three fascias; below the top one, several short battens were attached; on the underside of each of these were fixed six nails, intented to hold in place the cross-beams, which projected from the wall to the level of the battens: clearly this device was to prevent them from slipping inward. ........ Over the beam are set the cross-beams. ........ Up the face of the cross-beams are incised hree straight grooves, cut at right angles, equidistant. ........ The gaps between the cross-beams in more elegant work are filled with tablets, as broad as they are high. The cross-beams are set vertically above the solid of each column. The faces of the cross-beams stand out half a unit from the tablets; the tablets, meanwhile, are flush with the lowest fascia of the beam below.


Les dix livres d'architecture de Vitruve, Corrigés et traduits en 1684 par C. Perrault, Paris, 1684.
Vitruvius, De Architectura libri X, ed. F. Granger, London, 1962.
Ton Peters, Vitruvius, Handboek bouwkunde, Amsterdam, 1999.
W.B.Dinsmoor, The Architecture of Ancient Greece, London, 1950.
J.Ryckwert - N.Leach - R.Tavernor, Leon Battista Alberti, On the Art of Building in Ten Books, London, 1988

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